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The House Strikes Back

"Several Democrats said yesterday that many in their party wish to take a more measured approach to terrorism issues, and they refused to be stampeded by Bush. 'We have seen what happens when the president uses fearmongering to stampede Congress into making bad decisions,' said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.). 'That's why we went to war in Iraq.'

"White House officials and their allies were angry that the Democrats did not 'blink,' as one outside adviser said."

The back and forth between the Hill and the White House yesterday was bitter.

Here, for instance, is a letter to Bush from Silvestre Reyes, the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence: "Because I care so deeply about protecting our country, I take strong offense to your suggestion in recent days that the country will be vulnerable to terrorist attack unless Congress immediately enacts legislation giving you broader powers to conduct warrantless surveillance of Americans' communications and provides legal immunity for telecommunications companies that participated in the Administration's warrantless surveillance program. . . .

"If our nation is left vulnerable in the coming months, it will not be because we don't have enough domestic spying powers. It will be because your Administration has not done enough to defeat terrorist organizations -- including al Qaeda -- that have gained strength since 9/11. . . .

"I, for one, do not intend to back down -- not to the terrorists and not to anyone, including a President, who wants Americans to cower in fear.

"We are a strong nation. We cannot allow ourselves to be scared into suspending the Constitution. If we do that, we might as well call the terrorists and tell them that they have won."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid wrote to Bush: "I regret your reckless attempt to manufacture a crisis over the reauthorization of foreign surveillance laws. . . . Your suggestion that the law's expiration would prevent intelligence agents from listening to the conversations of terrorists is utterly false."

White House press secretary Dana Perino responded with this statement: "Senator Reid is wrong and irresponsibly misleading to say that we will be just as safe if the PAA expires as we are with the PAA in effect. . . .

"The terrorist threats to our nation are very real and grave, and inaction by the House in the face of these risks is unacceptable.

"Democrat (sic) leaders know that if they put the Senate bill on the House floor today, it would pass with bipartisan support. Make no mistake -- letting the PAA expire without replacing it with the bipartisan Senate bill results in greater risk to our national security, and it is irresponsible and false for Democrats to suggest otherwise."

Here's more from Perino on Fox News yesterday: "The House Democrats are basically doing the bidding of the trial lawyers, who are licking their chops, hoping that they could get a piece of a big class-action lawsuit against these telecommunications companies, which did their patriotic duty to help America in the immediacy following 9/11 when we weren't sure if there would be another attack."

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